January 10, 2012

Writing From France… With Love, Cheese, and Roundabouts

Bonjour from France, the land of romance, cheese, wine, champagne, berets, bread, bottled waterAsterix and Obelix, and hopefully literally inspiration! I’m currently sequestered over here in the lovely southern part of the country, with one goal in mind: write as much of my next book as I possibly can.

My wife is here as well, attending an intensive French language course every week day from 9am to 5pm, so I thought what better place for a loudmouth like me to write my next book than a place where I can’t speak the language?

The fact that my French ain’t so great isn’t going over very well with certain French citizens. As soon as they find out I’m from Canada, they shout in my face “MON DIEU! Canada! Francais!!” Then I yell back “Non, non! Moi du OUEST CANADA! OUEST COTE MOI!They look unimpressed with this answer.

I CAN understand many words, read most things, and get along just fine on my own, strolling around our village wearing a black beret my wife bought me to wear at all times… I just sound like a monosyllabic caveman when I actually speak:

“QUELLE TEMPS FERME?” That means “Excuse me madame, would you be so kind as to inform me what time your lovely boutique closes for the day, hmmm?” My wife, in the advanced French course at her school, is concerned I will sully her reputation in the village with my barbarian linguistics.

On weekends, my wife and I have had lots of stressful fun navigating the back roads of the French Riviera in a little three wheeled rental car, visiting ancient villages in the foothills of the French Alps like St. Paul de Vence, Grasse, Vallebonne, and Chateauneuf, as well as the sunny beach resorts of Cannes, Antibes, and Nice.

The stress comes when I have on more than one occasion burned rubber into a roundabout without yielding. This is a NON NON in France.

In the fragrant town of Grasse, where perfume was invented, I came very close to almost running down a motorcycle policeman in a roundabout. He skidded to stop and yelled at me. I waved, gave the thumbs up, and said “TOUTE LE MONDE!” He then made a half-hearted attempt to pull us over, looked at us again, and simply didn’t bother. Maybe it was my black beret?

We stayed at an amazing bed and breakfast in the hills over Cannes for a few nights. The owner, Wayne Brown, an Englishman, was kind enough to take us out in his speed boat on the crystal clear and azure Mediterranean Sea to see the palatial hotels and palm trees of Cannes framed by the snowcapped mountains of the Alps beyond. Stunning.

On my next wander, I hope to track down the villa where the Rolling Stones made one of their greatest albums: Exile On Mainstreet. It’s around here somewhere.

It’s been a wonderful retreat so far, the French are fantastic and welcoming people despite the rumours, and its all bringing back a rush of memories of many Smugglers European tours… now back to my primary goal.

And hey, let me know if you have any travel tips for the south of France!

(22) Comments

  1. PatMcP says:

    Are you smoking a number in that photo? You left that out of the title of the column!

  2. Good news! You’re a monosyllabic caveman in English too!

    (p.s. Miss ya on the air)

  3. Grant Lawrence says:

    @Pat no, not smoking, just doing my best Hunter S. Thompson in that photo with a cigarello and a clip to hold it with…

  4. Francisco says:

    Hi Grant. My travel tips for southern France are:

    1.- Take a train and go to SAN REMO!!!!! It’s about 90 minutes i thnk. Yeah, this is Italy. So close, yet SO SO SO different. Kick ass.

    2.- Take a plane and go to Spain. If you’re looking for inspiration why not going to the place which inspired Picasso, Miro, Dali, Gaudi, Goya, Velazquez, Cervantes, El Greco, Federico Garcia Lorca, Miguel Hernandez… ???

    OK, if I remember about some other travel tips for France I will let
    you know.

    A bientot!

  5. PatMcP says:

    Ah, I see, Hunter S. Thompson, the visual reference went by me.

    That’s an interesting writer role model you’ve chosen, I am anxious for that next read. I’m an admirer of the rebel you know, and gonzo journalism’s not too much of a stretch 🙂

    His drugs of choice were hallucinogens, though. I’d pull back on that if I was you.

  6. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hi Francisco – thanks for the tips! Pretty solid argument… on the Italy tip, what makes it so special?

  7. Molly says:

    Tip: Go back to Cannes on the 27th and have dinner with Cathy and me!

  8. Yvette says:

    Make sure you check out Eze Village. I hear it’s beautiful and have been trying to go there. It’s very close to Villefranche. I’ll be in Cannes Jan 27-Feb 1, will you still be around?

  9. David says:

    Go to Biot. It’s just up from Antibes, built on a hill and impossibly quaint. Lots of tiny winding streets and friendly cats. Worth a visit, for sure.

  10. Peter says:

    Looks like fun. What’s the weather like? We’re trying to decide between the south France or Morocco in March.

  11. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hey Molly! Unfortunately I leave France before Midem!! Sorry to miss you… how is Celebrity Wife Swappers going?

  12. Grant Lawrence says:

    @peter re the weather: stunning so far! We’ve been here just over a week and have barely seen a cloud yet, touch wood. Cool/cold in the shade, warm/hot in the sunshine. Highs of 15, lows of 5.

  13. Grant Lawrence says:

    @david – thanks for the tip on Biot! Sounds cool.

  14. Hey there – enjoy! Marco and Niccolo just had a little trip to Paris too! Try to visit Toulouse if you are nearby, as well as Rocamadour (beautiful scenery in he gorge and definitely Carcassone. France is the best country in the world to live, I think.

    Come do a tour in Capetown one day …

  15. Aix-en-Provence is lovely for cafe culture, etc, although I don’t know about this time of year ….

  16. dave says:

    Hey Grant, dave Elton, I lived in the south for two years so I might be able to come up with some fun stuff to do for you. 4 months in Nice, remember grasse etc.

  17. dave says:

    Carcassone is an amazing castle, Beziers has great beaches, Nice has pretty good art, Cannes is impossibly rich, what I truly loved though are the Cevennes mountains, north of Avignon. Beautiful country roads, loads of delicious wild chestnuts to roast, really cool bnb’s, it’s just lovely out there, not really french touristy, but I really liked it. I also really liked Montpelliers, beziers, and Perpignan. Something about the Spanish influence on that side that appealed to me.

  18. Grant Lawrence says:

    @Allison thanks… but better than Canada?!?

  19. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hi Dave – “Nice” to hear from you – thanks for the tips, we’ll check em out!

  20. Hello Grant:

    Glad you and Jill are enjoying Cannes. Wayne tells me that you are staying in the apartment (Michelle and are going to be staying there in Feb). I too am going to work on my novel so I hope you will leave some of your creativity lingering in the corners of the apartment for me to use. Please tell Jill that Michelle and I love her singing.

    Best regards,


  21. Jillian says:

    Just arrived home from 6 months in lovely Nice! Your book has helped me slide back into the Canadian lifestyle and remember growing up in and around our bodies of water!
    Anyways, if you want quintessential french homemade cuisine (local and made with passion) check out Chez Acchiardo (38 Rue Droite, Vieille Ville). 15e for three courses! Matisse Museum garden, relaxing hiking above the Nice port along the cliffs (views are spectacular), and Menton meandering. The other suggestions are magnifique!

  22. Grant Lawrence says:

    Hi Jillian – thanks for those tips, will do!

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